From academia to activism

Interview with Kifaya movement founding member George Isaac, published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Michael Adel, May 21, 2013.

Born in Port Said, George Isaac began his professional life as a history teacher, eventually becoming president of the Association of Catholic Schools. A leading member of Kifaya [Enough], he served as the group’s coordinator. Long politicised, he fought against the British occupation and the Tripartite Aggression on Egypt. He joined the Labour Party in 1969 and took part in protests.
Isaac organised the first Kifaya demonstration on 12 December 2004. He is now a member of the National Salvation Front NSF.

How do you view Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood (MB) rule?  

  • It has reached an appalling state because of the performance of the president, cabinet and the Freedom and Justice Party. We are caught in a gruelling economic crisis and face political disarray, accusations and threats to arrest opponents of the regime. I am reminded of the days when [Anwar Al-] Sadat put all the opposition in jail. I have asked of Morsi many times, where were you before the revolution, weren’t you in jail?
  • Now he wants to put the opposition behind bars. That’s ridiculous. In a recent speech he made yet more threats. It was terrible and upset people even more. We are going through a critical phase and I expect a serious conflict.

Could it result in blood being spilled?

  • I don’t think so, though it will be a serious clash. Morsi has succeeded only in dividing Egypt. MB leaders pay lip service to participation while we are demanding meaningful participation in the transitional phase. We have submitted ideas for dialogue.
  • We are confused by the terrible elections law, legislation that meanders between the Shura Council, Supreme Constitutional Court and the presidency. We don’t know where it will all end.
  • The president’s worst enemies are his advisers. His worst enemy of all is his legal adviser. He must be removed immediately.

Why does the NSF reject dialogue?

  • Because we have had very bad experiences in the past. President Morsi met with Mohamed Al-Baradei, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, Hamdeen Sabahi, Amr Moussa and representatives of other parties, and a day later issued his constitutional declaration. What was the point of dialogue? There is no trust between the presidency and the opposition. What is needed is a national salvation government. The incumbent prosecutor-general must resign. He is loyal to Morsi, not Egypt.

What do you think of the court ruling reinstating Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud as prosecutor-general? … //

… What is the difference between your opposition to Mubarak’s regime and that of Morsi?

  • We are living in a clone of the Mubarak era. If there is a difference it is that things are, if anything, worse than in the past which is why I still say the revolution must continue.

You said “enough” to Mubarak. When will you say it to Morsi?

  • His performance has been so abysmal we are saying it already. If Morsi loved his country he would admit his mistakes, say he cannot achieve the demands of the revolution, step down or at the very least allow the people to decide in a fresh presidential election.

But he is the legitimate, elected president.

  • He was elected according to a constitutional declaration that has expired. New presidential elections should have taken place under a new constitution, but instead we got a constitution tailored to keep Morsi in power.

Do you agree there are attempts to convert the political conflict into a sectarian one?

  • Yes, but they will fail. These are old and obvious tactics. They belong to a bygone era. The public knows too well the agenda of this regime and its tricks.

Religious fanaticism has emerged in schools. There have been reports of girls’ hair being cut to force them to wear the veil…

  • I want to know where the minister of education stands on all this. These incidents and others are very serious. How can they violate the personal rights of children in this way? This is absolutely objectionable and there must be firm action. There are educators in Egypt who must intervene. They are the ones responsible for these issues

Will you ever be president?

  • Egyptians are equal citizens and it is the right of any Egyptian to try and become president of their country without restrictions. The choice should be based on competence, not religion.

Are you optimistic?

  • Very optimistic. Egypt is going through a difficult rebirth but it will succeed. No one will drag us back towards ignorance and backwardness.

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